5 Questions to Ask Before Sending Your Child Back to School

8/20/2018

The beginning of a new school year is always hectic with back to school shopping, organizing supplies, nailing down schedules and completing all the required forms. Something that may drop off your to-do list is your child’s physical environment and the impact it can have on them, not just in the upcoming academic year, but for years to come.

Children spend hours at schools, daycare centers, afterschool programs and outdoor play areas, so it’s important to make sure these are safe places. Ensure your child can achieve their full potential with these 5 questions: 
 
1. When was the school built? 
Older schools (and daycare or afterschool facilities) are more likely to have paint that contains lead or other heavy metals such as chromium or mercury. The dust from these heavy metals can then be inhaled, or more likely ingested when they settle on surfaces, floors and desks. If you think any building your child frequents was built before 1978, ask if the paint has ever been tested for lead, and what follow-up measures were taken.
  
2. Has the drinking water been tested recently? 
A recent government report found that half of US schools don’t test their drinking water for lead and of those that do, one-third found lead levels high enough to warrant action.1 The report notes that federal law doesn’t mandate testing in schools, and only 8 states that require it, and the requirement excludes private daycare facilities. According to the EPA, 98,000 public schools & 500,000 childcare facilities are not regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act.2 Since lead levels in school drinking water can rise when long periods of nonuse are followed by heavy consumption3, it’s important to ask when the water was last tested, how many samples were taken and from where.

3. Has the playground been tested for environmental hazards? 
Your child may get more than a few bumps and bruises at recess. Heavy metals, such as lead, can be present in the paint on the playground equipment or in the soil. How old is the playground equipment? Has it, and the soil, ever been tested?
  
4. What toys will your child play with at school? 
Older plastic and painted toys, especially imported ones, may contain unacceptable levels of lead. Every year children’s products are recalled for a number of hazards, ranging from faulty zippers to excessive levels of toxins. Ask the teacher or program director if they stay up-to-date on the toy recall list?  
 
5. What is your child’s lunch packed in? 
If you’re making your child’s lunch, chances are you are packing it in a lunch box. And if that lunch box is made of vinyl, you could be exposing your child to lead and other toxins. (Lead is used to keep the vinyl stable.) Visit Safemama.com for the Lunch Gear Cheat Sheet.
 
Ask. Your child’s future could depend on it.
Don’t feel bad about asking these questions. Childhood lead exposure has been linked to poor academic performance at all grade levels.4 The longer a child is exposed to lead, the more permanent damage he/she will suffer. 


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References

1 Lead Testing of School Drinking Water Would Benefit from Improved Federal Guidance, GAO-18-382: Publicly Released: Jul 17, 2018. https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-18-382

2 Lead in Drinking Water in Schools and Childcare Facilities, https://www.epa.gov/dwreginfo/lead-drinking-water-schools-and-childcare-facilities

3 Levin, R., Brown, M.J., et. al. (2008). Lead Exposures in US Children, 2008: Implications for Prevention. Environ Health Perspect, 16(10), 1285-93. 

4 Zhang N., Baker., HW, Tufts M, et.al.(2013) Early childhood lead exposure and academic achievement: evidence from Detroit public schools, 2008-2010. Am J Public Health. 103(3):e72-7. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2012.301164. 


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